Brands want to be thought of as storytellers, and with good reason. Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather be on the receiving end of a good story — especially one that engages you with interesting or helpful ideas on a regular basis, almost like a serialised novel? Sounds a lot better than the dreary prospect of another marketing email landing in your inbox or the umpteenth white paper you have to read this month.

Then again, marketing relies on core techniques such as email or assets like white papers, blunt instruments as they can sometimes be. They are all part of the broad content continuum, and content, as my colleague Kirsten Newbold-Knipp has noted, “is the material substance of a brand’s marketplace advantage — the very hook that captivates customers at precise moments of need.” The trick is to turn those blunt instruments into something dynamic and persuasive.

Some brands, like GoPro or Red Bull for example, are by their very nature inextricably linked to compelling content. In the case of GoPro, customers generate the content, and the company’s marketing feeds on it. Red Bull, by contrast, stages events like the Stratos space jump that are ultimately elaborate content marketing and PR initiatives, generating stories for and about the brand.

The point is, you need to have a good story, tell the story in a way that’s going to resonate with your audience and distribute it in such a way that you are able to captivate customers at their time of need. And by tell, I mean in the broadest possible sense, thinking of all the mechanisms marketers have at their disposal to convey stories. Think of how National Geographic, a brand synonymous with content, draws on the full extent of its nearly 130-year history of memorable photography. Its vast trove of visual assets tells compelling stories that are both good content and good content marketing, serving readers and the brand in equal measure.

Not every brand can pull off a space jump, of course, but even if you’re a B2B marketer, you can effectively seed the audience using inbound techniques in such a way that you get your targets excited about your new infographic. As noted in our recent report, “Use Cases to Refine Your B2B and B2C Content Marketing” (client subscription again required), HubSpot is an example of a B2B company that built its brand in precisely this fashion. Do these things well and you are on your way to being a treasured storytelling companion that prospects and customers look forward to hearing from, maybe not quite so cherished as a grandmother, but far more appreciated than the average batch-and-blast marketer.

Much like the “marketing world without email” scenario I postulated in a previous post, a marketing world without content would be similarly nightmarish, if not bordering on the impossible. Content — and not just any old content, but targeted, relevant content — is such an important component of the digital customer experience that without it, you arguably have no customer experience. And as my colleague Chris Ross has observed, the more you can inject a data-driven core into your content marketing, the better you’ll be able to balance the art and science that accompany such efforts.

All marketing doesn’t necessarily fall into the sub-discipline of content marketing, but try to envision any successful marketing that doesn’t rely on content. That simple fact puts content marketing in the proverbial catbird seat at the marketing table.

*This article is reprinted from the Gartner Blog Network with permission. 

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